2012 Jaguar XJ Driving Impressions

The Jaguar XJ's 385-hp V8 is no more powerful than the engines found in other cars in this class but the XJ is lighter by 300 to 400 pounds, thanks to its aluminum chassis and body, and that helps its acceleration and fuel mileage. The engine has more than enough power for any luxury sedan occasion.

But you can go faster. The Supercharged model adds 85 horsepower and 40 foot-pounds of torque, cutting one second off the 0-60 mph time, to less than 5 seconds. You have to boot the gas pedal to feel the difference, but when you do, it blows your shoes off. The special-order Supersport adds another 40 horsepower and 40 foot-pounds of torque. That one will blow your socks off.

We found all three V8s smooth as a bottler's private label, quiet at cruise or loping around town, while bringing a welcome throaty purr under heavier throttle. The sixth generation twin vortex Roots-type supercharger lacks the whine of old, and can't be heard even with the stereo off and windows windows down. That's because of the air intake that was designed to isolate and lose the supercharger whine.

The 5.0-liter engine is designed and produced at Jaguar facilities in Coventry, England. It's an all-aluminum 32-valve V8 featuring direct injection, independent variable cam timing, cam profile switching, and a variable geometry inlet manifold. The multi-hole direct injection system sprays pressurized fuel (up to 150 bar) into the center of the combustion chambers. The variable camshaft timing system has its own Jaguar spin, as well. The inlet camshaft profile switching changes the characteristics of the engine for the torque, power or economy that may be needed at any moment.

The XJ is long-legged, meant to get up there at high speeds and stretch. It's so smooth and commanding that 90 mph feels like 70. In fact, it wants to run 90, not poke along at 70, so be careful.

The XJ's sweet 6-speed manual-automatic transmission uses adaptive gear-change strategies based on the type of road and the driver's application of the gas pedal. This transmission anticipates well and shifts smoothly. In manual mode, the transmission stays in the driver's chosen gear to redline, and the paddle shifts are sharp.

The XJ uses fully independent suspension, with steel springs in front for precision and air springs in back for the best level ride among varying loads. Ride quality and bump absorption is very good, even on 20-inch wheels over pock-marked roads and expansion joints. Full air-suspended cars like the Mercedes S-Class have a slight edge in ultimate ride cushiness, but they haven't the steering precision of the Jag, while others have multiple electronic chassis controls to help deal with the weight but impart a sense of artificiality.

The XJ doesn't have such artificiality. Steering is light but firms up, as does the suspension damping, with the touch of a button. It may not post the ultimate handling numbers of an Aston Rapide or Maserati Quattroporte or Porsche Panamera, but the handling is balanced, the ride quality competitive, the look clearly better in one case, and the cost at least $20,000 less.

We did have one issue, however, which we believe to be caused by the wide 245/40YR20 front and 275/35YR20 rear tires. At 70 mph, over an unsmooth freeway, the car tends to wander with the grooves on the highway. We haven't felt this on XJ models with the standard 19-inch wheels; in fact, we've never felt it on any of the many XJs we've driven in previous years.

Big rotors and calipers, even bigger on supercharged cars, are backed up by the full suite of electronic controls. Although you can switch off the stability control, we never found the need while testing the limits because the system is not intrusive at all.

A standard-wheelbase XJ Supersport will be the quickest model and, depending on tires fitted, should be the best-handling as well. But the plain XJ managed just fine thank you, so think of the Supersport as the XJ to have if you think you want to drive a racetrack. If you think you want to get to a racetrack comfortably in minimum time, any XJ will do the job.

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